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Thousands march in Madrid against abortion limits

Thousands of people marched in Spain’s capital yesterday to protest against a government plan to limit abortions that has caused unusually open divisions in the ruling conservative People’s Party.

Protesters from around the country joined the biggest demonstration so far against a draft Bill to restrict abortion to cases of rape or severe danger to the mother’s health.

Four years ago, Spain came in line with most of the rest of Europe when the then Socialist government legalised abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

“This is a step backward. We’re going back 30 years,” said Pilar Abad, 58, among the demonstrators waving purple signs who marched from the main train station to the national Parliament.

“We really hope that they’ll change this Bill during the parliamentary debate, that’s why we’re here,” she said.

Polls show 80% of Spaniards, including practising Catholics, support abortion on demand

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Cabinet approved the draft Bill on abortion in December – in a move widely seen as an attempt to appease his party’s disgruntled right wing - but it has not been submitted yet to Parliament for debate.

Rajoy recently signalled he was open to modifying the proposal after critics from within the PP said he had failed to build party consensus for the Bill and the changes would be out of step with public opinion.

Polls show 80 per cent of Spaniards, including practising Catholics, support abortion on demand.

As Spain finally emerges from a prolonged slump, Rajoy has struggled to sell the good economic news amid the backlash over the abortion move.

The first voter opinion survey after the Cabinet approved the draft Bill showed the PP losing ground to the Opposition Socialists, who have vowed to fight the changes to abortion law.

However, the PP has an absolute majority in Parliament so once it agrees on the wording of the Bill it will be able to pass it into law.

“Voters have spoken through the opinion polls,” said Celia Villalobos, a People’s Party MP who supports abortion on demand.

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